Do a Thyroid Neck Check to Find Lumps in Your Glands (2023)

Thyroid Disease

Diagnosis

Benefits and Limitation of the Self-Exam

By

Mary Shomon

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Mary Shomon

Mary Shomon is a writer and hormonal health and thyroid advocate. She is the author of "The Thyroid Diet Revolution."

Learn about our editorial process

Updated on September 15, 2022

Medically reviewed

Verywell Health articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and healthcare professionals. These medical reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.

by

Danielle Weiss, MD

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(Video) How to do a self neck exam for early detection of Thyroid disease? - Dr. Anantharaman Ramakrishnan

Medically reviewed byDanielle Weiss, MD

Dr. Danielle Weiss is double board-certified in internal medicine and endocrinology. She is the founder of the Center for Hormonal Health and Well-Being in San Diego, California.

Learn about our Medical Expert Board

A thyroid swallowing test is a self-exam of your thyroid gland. It's also called a neck check. You can do the thyroid swallowing test at home to check for lumps or enlargements on your own thyroid gland.

What Is Your Thyroid?

The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped organ located in the lower front of the neck. It's just above your clavicle (collarbone) and below your larynx (voice box).

Growths on the thyroid can be nodules and goiters orthyroid cancer. Lumps in the neck can be caused by thyroid disease or other conditions such as:

  • Lymph node enlargement
  • Lymphoma
  • An infectious abscess
  • A traumatic injury

However, you should know that a neck check is not considered the most accurate or reliable way to identify thyroid disease. You can have serious thyroid disease and have a completely normal neck check.

On the other hand, finding a major growth on your thyroid is likely not a serious problem; often, it's a sign of an easily treatable condition, such as an iodine deficiency.

Is a Thyroid Neck Check Accurate?

A 2017 report from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force concluded that feeling the neck for lumps detected thyroid nodules in only 11.6% of cases. Ultrasound, an imaging procedure using sound waves, was five times more accurate at finding abnormal thyroid growths.

This article will go over how to do a thyroid swallowing test at home to check your thyroid. It will also help you decide when to see a provider about something you find on a thyroid neck check.

How Is Thyroid Cancer Diagnosed?

Do a Thyroid Neck Check to Find Lumps in Your Glands (3)

1

Preparing to Do a Thyroid Neck Check

To prepare for a thyroid swallowing test at home, stand in front of a mirror so that you can see your neck.

Remove any items, such as a scarf, necktie, jewelry, or turtleneck, that could block your view of your neck.

If you're going to use a hand-held mirror, make sure it's focused on the lower-front part of your neck.

2

Position Your Neck

Your neck needs to be in the right position for a thyroid swallowing test.

Gently extend your neck back. Then, slightly point your chin toward the ceiling so that you can get a longer view of your neck.

3

Sip Water

The actual "swallowing" part of a thyroid swallowing test comes next.

With your neck slightly extended back, take a sip of water. When you swallow, it moves your voice box (larynx) forward.

Swallowing will help you see the shape of your thyroid gland better. It will also make it easier to see any abnormal shapes.

(Video) How to Self Check Your Thyroid for Thyroid Cancer Symptoms

4

Watch as You Swallow

Here's what to look for as you're doing a thyroid swallowing test:

  • Bigger than normal areas (enlargements)
  • Lumps
  • Parts sticking out (protrusions)
  • Parts that look or feel off-center

Doing a thyroid check just one time probably won't be enough to get a proper look at your thyroid, so you can repeat the steps again.

Swallow another mouthful of water and watch your neck, taking note of anything that seems unusual.

Nodules vs. Goiters

When you do a thyroid swallowing test you might see nodules or goiters. Here is how to tell which is which:

  • Thyroid nodules are bumps that usually look round. You may feel a thyroid nodule rolling beneath your fingertips or see it move with your thyroid gland when you swallow.
  • A goiter (swelling) is often on one side of the thyroid but sometimes it can be on both sides.

5

Feel Your Neck

Once you've completed the looking part of a thyroid swallowing test, move on to the feeling part.

Gently touch the area around your thyroid gland to feel for any parts that are bigger than normal, have bumps, or are sticking out.

Here's how to tell the difference between your thyroid and the other structures of your neck:

  1. Slide your finger down the midline of your neck. The first hard structure you will hit is the thyroid cartilage that goes to your Adam's apple.
  2. As you continue to move your finger down, you will feel another bit of cartilage called the cricoid ring. It goes around your windpipe (trachea).
  3. About two fingers-width below the ring is the thyroid isthmus. This is the tissue that connects the two sides of the thyroid gland. The lobes of the gland are on either side of the thyroid isthmus.

6

Talk to Your Provider

After you've done a thyroid swallowing test at home, talk to your healthcare provider about what you saw and felt.

If you have a thyroid that is bigger than normal or any bumps, your provider might want to do some tests like:

  • A thyroid ultrasound
  • Thyroid hormone blood tests
  • A​ computerized tomography (CT) scan

Is It Cancer?

Finding a nodule when you do a thyroid swallowing test does not mean that you have thyroid cancer. In fact, a 2018 study found that only around 8% of thyroid nodules are cancerous.

Summary

A thyroid swallowing test is a way to check your thyroid gland at home. Doing an at-home thyroid neck check can help you find lumps or growths on your thyroid gland.

All you need to do a thyroid self-check is a mirror and a glass of water. You take a sip of water and watch your neck as you swallow. If you notice any areas that look or feel bigger or bumpier than normal, let your provider know.

Should You See an Endocrinologist If You Have Thyroid Problems?

A Word From Verywell

A thyroid swallowing test can help you spot potential problems with your thyroid, but it's not perfect.

You could have a thyroid condition and have a normal self-check and finding something abnormal does not mean you have a serious condition.

The best way to catch thyroid problems, including thyroid cancer, is to see your provider regularly for check-ups.

If you do notice something unusual in your neck or are concerned, make sure you let your provider know. They can do tests that are more accurate than a thyroid swallowing test.

Thyroid Disease Healthcare Provider Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next healthcare provider's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

(Video) Examination of the Thyroid - Clinical Examination

Do a Thyroid Neck Check to Find Lumps in Your Glands (4)

Download PDF

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can your thyroid cause problems swallowing?

    People with thyroid conditions may have trouble swallowing. You may feel like it's hard to swallow if you have a thyroid gland that is bigger than normal or has nodules.

  • What is a thyroid barium swallow test used for?

    A barium swallow test is used to look for problems in the throat (esophagus) and upper parts of the gastrointestinal tract.

    When a thyroid problem is making a person feel like they're having trouble swallowing, a barium swallow test can help figure out what's wrong.

What Happens During a Barium Swallow Test?

5 Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Lin JS, Bowles EJA, Williams SB, Morrison CC. Screening for thyroid cancer: updated evidence report and systematic review for the US Preventive Services Task Force. JAMA. 2017;317(18):1888-903. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.0562

  2. Pynnonen MA,Gillespie MB,Roman B. Clinical practice guideline: evaluation of the neck mass in adults. Otolaryngol HeadNeckSurg.2017 Sep;157(2_Suppl):S1-30. doi:10.1177/0194599817722550.

  3. Gregory A, Bayat M, Kumar V, et al. Differentiation of benign and malignant thyroid nodules by using comb-push ultrasound shear elastography: a preliminary two-plane view study. Acad Radiol. 2018;25(11):1388-97. doi:10.1016/j.acra.2018.02.025

  4. Greenblatt DY, Sippel R, Leverson G, Frydman J, Schaefer S, Chen H. Thyroid resection improves perception of swallowing function in patients with thyroid disease. World J Surg. 2009 Feb;33(2):255-60. doi: 10.1007/s00268-008-9837-9. PMID: 19034567; PMCID: PMC2903838.

  5. Jarrod D. Frizzell, Brandon J. Perkins, R. Scott Morehead, "Thyroid Lymphoma as a Cause of Dysphagia and Dyspnea in a Patient without Palpable Nodules or Goiter",Case Reports in Medicine, vol. 2009, Article ID 385461, 2 pages, 2009. doi:10.1155/2009/385461

Do a Thyroid Neck Check to Find Lumps in Your Glands (5)

By Mary Shomon
Mary Shomon is a writer and hormonal health and thyroid advocate. She is the author of "The Thyroid Diet Revolution."

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(Video) I Have Thyroid Cancer

FAQs

Where would thyroid cancer lumps be? ›

The main symptom of thyroid cancer is a lump or swelling at the front of the neck just below your Adam's apple, which is usually painless. Women also have Adam's apples, but they're much smaller and less prominent than a man's. The lymph nodes in your neck can also be affected and become swollen.

How do you check your neck for thyroid cancer? ›

Take a drink of water and swallow. As you swallow, look at your neck. Check for any bulges or protrusions in this area when you swallow. Reminder: Don't confuse the Adam's apple with the thyroid gland.

How do I know if my neck lump is thyroid? ›

You want to look between the collar bone and the Adam's apple you want to look for any lumps or

What does a cancerous thyroid lump feel like? ›

Typically, thyroid cancer doesn't trigger any signs or symptoms in its early stages. As it grows, you may notice a lump that can be felt through the skin in your neck. You may notice changes to your voice, including hoarseness of your voice, or difficulty swallowing. Some may develop pain in their neck or throat.

What is the first stage of thyroid cancer? ›

Stage I: This stage describes a small tumor (T1) with no spread to lymph nodes (N0) and no distant metastasis (M0). Stage II: This stage describes a larger localized tumor (T2 or T3) with no spread to lymph nodes (N0) and no metastasis (M0).

Will thyroid cancer show up in blood work? ›

A blood test cannot diagnose thyroid cancer, but you will have a blood test to check your levels of T3, T4 and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). The thyroid generally functions normally even if thyroid cancer is present, and your hormone production won't be affected.

How does thyroid cancer feel in the neck? ›

Sit or stand up straight, and make sure your neck muscles are relaxed. Tip your head back and swallow. As you swallow, feel your thyroid gland at the base of your neck, located below the larynx (voice box) and above the collarbone, and check for any nodules or asymmetry.

What does neck cancer feel like thyroid? ›

Neck pain that starts in the front of the neck and sometimes extends to the ears. Trouble breathing or swallowing. Voice changes or hoarseness. Continuous cough not related to a cold.

Where does your neck swell with thyroid cancer? ›

A lump on the thyroid gland may be found by chance on a routine physical exam or an imaging study of the neck done for unrelated reasons. Other patients feel a gradually enlarging lump in the front portion of the neck or have difficulty swallowing or speaking.

What are early warning signs of thyroid problems? ›

7 Early Warning Signs of Thyroid Issues
  • Fatigue.
  • Weight gain.
  • Weight loss.
  • Slowed heart rate.
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Sensitivity to heat.
  • Sensitivity to cold.
11 Jan 2021

What symptoms can thyroid nodules cause? ›

Symptoms of Thyroid Nodules

When thyroid nodules do produce symptoms, the most common are a lump in the neck and a sense of mass while swallowing (and possibly difficulty swallowing). In addition, larger nodules may cause difficulty breathing, hoarseness, and neck pain.

Is a thyroid tumor hard or soft? ›

Thyroid nodules are solid or fluid-filled lumps that form within your thyroid, a small gland located at the base of your neck, just above your breastbone. Most thyroid nodules aren't serious and don't cause symptoms. Only a small percentage of thyroid nodules are cancerous.

What does a cancerous neck lump feel like? ›

What does a cancerous lymph node feel like? Cancerous lymph nodes can occur anywhere on the neck and are typically described as firm, painless, and sometimes may be immovable. A lump will form when a cancer cell infiltrates the capsule and multiplies.

Are thyroid tumors fast growing? ›

This quick-growing cancer usually results in a large growth in the neck. It has often spread to other parts of the body by the time it is found and is very hard to treat effectively.

What cancers cause lumps in neck? ›

A lump in the neck may be a sign of thyroid cancer. Or it may be caused by an enlarged lymph node. Swelling in one or more lymph nodes in the neck is a common symptom of head and neck cancer, including mouth cancer and salivary gland cancer. Lumps that come and go are not typically due to cancer.

What are the late symptoms of thyroid cancer? ›

Common symptoms
  • Neck lump. A single lump on the front of the neck is the most common symptom. ...
  • Neck pain. Pain in the front of the neck may be related to the growth of a thyroid tumor. ...
  • Hoarseness. ...
  • Coughing. ...
  • Trouble swallowing (dysphagia). ...
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea).

What is the main cause of thyroid cancer? ›

Thyroid cancer is linked with a number of inherited conditions (described in Thyroid cancer risk factors), but the exact cause of most thyroid cancers is not yet known. Certain changes in a person's DNA can cause thyroid cells to become cancerous.

Is cancer in thyroid fatal? ›

Most thyroid cancers respond well to treatment and aren't life-threatening. After thyroid surgery or treatments, your body still needs thyroid hormones to function. You'll need thyroid replacement hormone therapy for life.

Is thyroid cancer curable? ›

Most thyroid cancers can be cured, especially if they have not spread to distant parts of the body. If the cancer can't be cured, the goal of treatment may be to remove or destroy as much of the cancer as possible and to keep it from growing, spreading, or returning for as long as possible.

Do they put you to sleep for a thyroid biopsy? ›

Thyroid biopsy is a minimally invasive procedure and is often done in the office setting. Patients are awake for the procedure. A thin needle is carefully inserted into the thyroid nodule. The needles we use are as small, or smaller, than the needles used to draw blood.

What is the survival rate for thyroid cancer? ›

The 5-year survival rate is almost 100% for localized papillary, follicular, and medullary thyroid cancers. For localized anaplastic thyroid cancer, the 5-year survival rate is 34%. If thyroid cancer has spread to nearby tissues or organs and/or the regional lymph nodes, it is called regional thyroid cancer.

Is thyroid cancer easy to detect? ›

Many cases of thyroid cancer can be found early. In fact, most thyroid cancers are now found much earlier than in the past and can be treated successfully. Most early thyroid cancers are found when patients see their doctors because of neck lumps or nodules they noticed.

Who is most likely to get thyroid cancer? ›

For unclear reasons thyroid cancers (like almost all diseases of the thyroid) occur about 3 times more often in women than in men. Thyroid cancer can occur at any age, but the risk peaks earlier for women (who are most often in their 40s or 50s when diagnosed) than for men (who are usually in their 60s or 70s).

Can you feel thyroid cancer spreading? ›

When thyroid cancer advances and metastasizes to distant areas of the body, some additional symptoms may be present. Metastatic thyroid cancer symptoms include: Fatigue. Nausea and vomiting.

Does thyroid cancer make you feel like you have a lump in your throat? ›

Thyroid cancer often causes a painless lump or swelling low down in the front of the neck. However, neck lumps are common and are usually caused by a less serious condition, such as an enlarged thyroid (goitre). Only around 1 in every 20 neck lumps are cancer.

What are the chances of thyroid cancer spreading to lymph nodes? ›

Cervical metastasis (spread to lymph nodes in the neck) are present in 50% of small papillary carcinomas and in more than 75% of the larger papillary thyroid carcinomas.

Are thyroid tumors soft or hard? ›

Typically, the nodule will feel firmer than the rest of the thyroid gland. Although the chances are low that a thyroid lump is cancerous, early detection is important.

How big is a thyroid cancer lump? ›

When the analysis of nodule size was compared with the type and distribution of thyroid malignancy, a significant relationship was detected. The majority of cancer cases, having a nodular size of 1.0-1.9 cm, were diagnosed as papillary carcinoma, and 61.9% of cancerous nodules ≥4 cm were follicular carcinomas.

How can you tell if you have thyroid cancer? ›

The most common early sign of thyroid cancer is an unusual lump, nodule or swelling in the neck. If you notice a new or growing lump, you should see your doctor, who can run additional tests to identify the cause and determine if it is a tumor.

Do they put you to sleep for a thyroid biopsy? ›

Thyroid biopsy is a minimally invasive procedure and is often done in the office setting. Patients are awake for the procedure. A thin needle is carefully inserted into the thyroid nodule. The needles we use are as small, or smaller, than the needles used to draw blood.

What does a cancerous neck lump feel like? ›

What does a cancerous lymph node feel like? Cancerous lymph nodes can occur anywhere on the neck and are typically described as firm, painless, and sometimes may be immovable. A lump will form when a cancer cell infiltrates the capsule and multiplies.

What symptoms can thyroid nodules cause? ›

Symptoms of Thyroid Nodules

When thyroid nodules do produce symptoms, the most common are a lump in the neck and a sense of mass while swallowing (and possibly difficulty swallowing). In addition, larger nodules may cause difficulty breathing, hoarseness, and neck pain.

How fast spreading is thyroid cancer? ›

It grows slowly, often in 1 lobe of the thyroid gland. It often spreads to lymph nodes in the neck. Thyroidectomy (THY-roy-DEK-toh-mee): Surgery to remove part or all of the thyroid gland.

Is thyroid cancer treatable? ›

Most thyroid cancers can be cured, especially if they have not spread to distant parts of the body. If the cancer can't be cured, the goal of treatment may be to remove or destroy as much of the cancer as possible and to keep it from growing, spreading, or returning for as long as possible.

What is the survival rate for thyroid cancer? ›

The 5-year survival rate is almost 100% for localized papillary, follicular, and medullary thyroid cancers. For localized anaplastic thyroid cancer, the 5-year survival rate is 34%. If thyroid cancer has spread to nearby tissues or organs and/or the regional lymph nodes, it is called regional thyroid cancer.

Who is most likely to get thyroid cancer? ›

For unclear reasons thyroid cancers (like almost all diseases of the thyroid) occur about 3 times more often in women than in men. Thyroid cancer can occur at any age, but the risk peaks earlier for women (who are most often in their 40s or 50s when diagnosed) than for men (who are usually in their 60s or 70s).

What is the main cause of thyroid cancer? ›

Thyroid cancer is linked with a number of inherited conditions (described in Thyroid cancer risk factors), but the exact cause of most thyroid cancers is not yet known. Certain changes in a person's DNA can cause thyroid cells to become cancerous.

What is a thyroid cough like? ›

For most people, this cough is a dry, hacking sort of cough.” In addition to cough, thyroid growth can lead to pressing on the vocal cords and a hoarse voice, or pressing on the esophagus and difficulty swallowing food. You may also notice swelling or pain in the front of your lower neck, and even into your ears.

Videos

1. Check Your Neck for Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer
(Butterfly Thyroid Cancer Trust)
2. SIGNS THAT YOU HAVE A LOW THYROID LEVEL - Hypothyroidism Symptoms
(MEDSimplified)
3. What it’s like to get a Thyroid Ultrasound Exam
(RAYUS Radiology™)
4. Denise Richards treats an enlarged thyroid after fans noticed it on TV l GMA
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5. How to check your lymph nodes
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6. How To Do A Thyroid Neck Check Self-Exam
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